Farah Alibay has been employed for 10 years at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a California-based space research center owned by NASA.
More specifically, the experienced engineer is working on the control system of the Perseverance rover, which was launched on the planet Mars in July 2020 to explore the Jezero crater.
Mars robot as big as a Mini Cooper
“It took five years to design and build this rover, which is the size of a Mini Cooper and equipped with large off-road wheels. “This robot is seven feet tall and weighs about a ton,” Farah Alibay explained.
“To send the robot to Mars, the journey took seven months. Billions of years ago this planet looked like Earth. We want to know if there was life on this star. “Perseverance is equipped with a drill to take samples from the crater and then bring them back to Earth,” this scientist told the packed room.
Equipped with multiple cameras, this machine carries a mini-helicopter called Ingenuity, which enabled the first remote-controlled flight on the Red Planet.
“To control the robot, we send commands via electromagnetic waves. “Due to the distance, each order takes between 20 and 25 minutes,” emphasizes Ms. Alibay.
The end date of the Mars 2020 mission, which will use the Perseverance robot, is not yet known.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory employs between 6,000 and 7,000 people at its Pasadena facility. “About eight Quebecers work there,” the engineer told us.
From Cambridge to MIT
Farah Alibay is of Indian origin, was born in Montreal and spent much of her childhood in Joliette.
“As a child, I was curious and clever. I grew up with films like Star Wars and Star Trek. “When I was about nine years old, I really liked the movie Apollo 13, which tells the story of this mission to the moon that almost became a disaster,” she said.
Ms. Alibay completed her secondary education in Manchester, England, and then studied for four years at the prestigious University of Cambridge, where she earned a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree in aerospace engineering and aerothermal engineering.
“I didn’t want to apply to this university for fear of failure. It was a math teacher who encouraged me to keep going.”
With her diploma in hand, Farah Alibay returned to North America to pursue a doctorate in aerospace engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in suburban Boston.
Canadian astronauts like Quebec’s Julie Payette greatly inspired Ms. Alibay in her career choice. When a student asked “Have you ever been to space?” the answer was “No, but it is a dream of mine to maybe go there one day.”
This renowned speaker was invited as part of the annual conferences of the Divine Word Secondary School Foundation.